For me, making plans with friends once required the finesse of a diplomat forging peace between two countries. The reason it was so difficult was because at the time, most of my friends were coupled up, while I was single. Each outing necessitated a complicated negotiation process including numerous back-and-forth exchanges to hammer out the details: Would we be going out alone, or did I mind if my friend’s partner came? If we were going out alone, could my friend check with his/her partner to work out available dates (which were of course, subject to change)? Often, I had to coordinate plans around a time where my friend’s partner also had something going on so they could each go out separately on the same day or night. It got to be so frustrating that I eventually gave up on making plans with my coupled friends and started hanging out with other singles instead — even the ones with whom I wasn’t particularly close. (This could be bad if your single friends are holding you back.)
As soon as I got into a relationship, I swore to myself that I — and my boyfriend — would be more sensitive to our single friends. After a decade spent in the dating trenches, it was the least I could do. So if you’re trying to maintain friendships with your long-time best buds, here are a few tips from a formerly single gal who’s sensitive to your plight.
View Singles on Match.com
1. Never make your friend feel like your second choice. My friend Mike, a 35-year-old teacher from Los Angeles, CA, always used to call and say stuff like, “Debbie’s not home, so I can talk to you now,” or “Debbie’s out of town next week, do you want to make plans?” Your friends know that your partner always comes first with you, but you don’t have to rub it in their faces. I asked Mike if he could make plans with me because he wanted to, not just because his wife was away.
2. Everyone has time to talk on the phone with friends — including you. When I was single, I had loads more time to talk on the phone than I do now (especially when my boyfriend’s in range, interrupting all my conversations with questions about the subject I’m discussing: “Who is that? Why is she upset?” or making unrelated interruptions, like asking, “Where’s the remote?”). But that doesn’t mean I can’t schedule some chit-chat time for my good friends. And I don’t say “I can talk now because Solomon’s away...” or hang up as soon as he walks in the room, acting like my friend on the other end of the line is just a placeholder of some kind.
3. Don’t relegate your partner to being responsible for maintaining your friendships. I don’t believe the When Harry Met Sally maxim that men and women can’t be friends. I have plenty of male friends and my boyfriend has lots of female friends, too. Sometimes he tries to get me to make plans with Lisa or Carley or Michelle, but I tell him: “They’re your friends.” When my friend Nick, 28, a real estate developer in New York, NY, got married, I was insulted that he let his wife take all my calls. But when they split, I got to take back full “custody” of his friendship in the divorce. I think friends are sometimes like money: whatever (or whomever) you considered to be “yours” coming into a relationship should still technically be yours if you’re on your way out, so you’d better take care of that friendship in the meantime.
4. Try not to make it a threesome every time you hang out with someone. Jon, a 39-year-old web developer from San Francisco, CA, told me he had nothing against his friend Paul’s fiancée — then added, “but does she have to come out with us every time?” Sometimes Jon just wanted to chill and hang out the way he and Paul used to, i.e., just two guys, spending quality time alone together. Women are vigilant about having their girls’ nights out; men should be, too.
5. Remember that your friend’s issues are real. My friend Julie, a 40-year-old publicist and mom of three from Chicago, IL used to ask me: “So what’s going on in your dating life?” I would just tell her, “It’s all good!” because otherwise, I ended up feeling like I was somehow providing her with some kind of schadenfreude-style entertainment — and the accompanying sense of relief that she didn’t have to deal with dating anymore. She didn’t seem to have patience for the vicissitudes of my love life. When I go out with single friends now, I do ask them what’s going on with their love lives — and I’m ready to empathize with them. After all, it’s not so long ago that I was there myself.
6. Keep up with your life outside of the relationship. Of course, when you find yourself in a new a relationship, your gym attendance wanes, your weekly poker night attendance might become more sporadic, and your lunch dates are suddenly far and few between with coworkers and friends. “That’s just OK for the beginning,” said Benjamin, 42, a divorced father and web programmer in Boston, MA, whose weekly poker-night crew permits any guy to be flaky during the first two months of a serious relationship. “After that, we’re all on him like white on rice,” Benjamin explains. “We’re his friends! What’s a dude without his friends?”
Amy Klein writes the weekly “Fertility Diary” column for The New York Times’ Motherlode blog. Her website iskleinslines.com.